Many moons ago, I moved to Washington DC to open a practice with a prominent psychiatrist. I was young, green and a recent graduate from my Master’s program. He believed in me, mentored me and launched me on the professional path that has led to here, this time, this moment. I will always be indebted to him.
I will never forget the time we had “the talk.” No, not that one. The one where he pushed me into further training. He told me that if I wanted to be the best, I needed to study with the best. And off he sent me to Washington Center for Psychoanalysis to obtain a Certificate in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. In plain English, we are talking Freud. Yes, the couch, multiple times per week, for many years, rummaging through the mind.
My mentor’s advice proved invaluable. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was a game-changer. After sitting at the feet of brilliant psychoanalysts, my work and my life, would never be the same. They influenced me. Expanded my mind. Made me think differently about human nature.
Here are a few basic tenants of psychoanalysis that are user-friendly and worth understanding:
1. No one is crazy to him/herself. In other words, everything has a meaning. As a species of psychological evolution, human psyches accumulate emotional experiences. These stay lodged inside, impacting who we are, what we do and why we do it. This concept alone invites curiosity if we are bold enough to accept such toward ourselves and others. There is more than meets the conscious mind’s eye. Am I willing to try to understand what that might be?
2. The unconscious mind is alive and well. For those of us that like control, the existence of the unconscious mind can be a threat. The idea that there is a part of me that determines my life which exists outside my consciousness, well … that thought alone can be unfathomable and downright scary. And it is true. That is why we repeat behaviors. And act out feelings we did not know we have. And stay stuck. Somewhere, deep inside, in the bowels of my unconscious, my story checks out.
3. There is value in free association. One way we access the gold in our unconscious is by taking the time to allow it to surface. Creating such space to talk freely sends a message to the unconscious that you are ready. Ready to listen to what it might have to reveal to you. And it is picky that way. It won’t appear until it has a willing and available audience.
When patience and time is allotted, the unconscious begins to show itself. Sleep is an example. Our dream life is an entrée to the ripe mine of the unconscious. So is writing or talking out loud with no agenda, no judgment and no rush. One thought, one feeling and then another and then another. Like the stacks of cafeteria trays in middle school, you start with tray one. And then two and then three. No getting to tray #12 until you have taken off each tray before that, one layer at a time. With enough time, space and interest, into the depths of the mind you dive. Closer to that treasure of authentic integration and full living.
Sadly, few of us have the motivation or the luxury to commit to a full-blown psychoanalytic experience. But, Freud is far from dead. His contribution to our understanding of life as a human being is inestimable. Try a few of these ideas on for size. They just might widen and deepen your life experience. They sure have mine.